Inmates Training on VR to Become Auto Technicians

vr, training, vocational training, Prison,

Women at a correctional facility in Maryland are completing vocational training in virtual reality (VR), giving them a shot at a better life after release.

  • The prison is collaborating with the nonprofit Vehicles for Change to use VR for auto technician career training.
  • VR training skills are transferable to real-world applications.

The Maryland Correctional Institution for Women (MCIW) is running a program where inmates are learning skills in virtual reality (VR), giving the technology a novel purpose.

During incarceration, inmates have the chance to get their general educational development (GED), the equivalent of a high school diploma. Some prisons’ educational programs go further than this offering vocational training and associate and bachelor’s degrees. The MCIW has taken a slightly different path, vocational training with VR.

Easier than Thought

In collaboration with Baltimore-based nonprofit Vehicles for Change, MCIW is looking into using VR to make career training opportunities more accessible. The non-profit built the VR program during the pandemic, when they could no longer safely offer in-person training. Their alternative saves space and the expense of a new garage while still providing the learning experience. The VR simulator offers an interactive garage, like garages in real life.

Using a Meta Quest VR headset, Tiffany Joseph Busch is training to be an auto technician in preparation for her release in June. She jokingly told her instructor, “If I had known it was this easy then I wouldn’t have been paying for oil changes.”

Auto technicians are in demand right now, which plays in the women’s favor. Plus, they often pay over the minimum wage. Granted, her current skills are confined to the metaverse, but they are very much transferable. If you have assimilated the knowledge, the application will be a breeze.

Putting Rehabilitation Back Where It Belongs

Prison is supposed to rehabilitate these people so that when they eventually get out, they can be functioning members of society. However, somewhere between privatizing the prison system and poverty pushing people into criminal activity en masse, this intent was lost. For one reason or another, mostly financial, prisons act like zoos, rather than places where troubled people go to forcibly receive help.

Now, the likelihood of formerly incarcerated people going back to jail or prison within a certain period (recidivism) is alarmingly high. According to the National Institute of Justice, almost 44% of criminals released return before the first year out of prison.

36-year-old Busch has been in and out of prison since she turned 19. Up until this point, she may not have had the proper chance to make something of her life. It’s hard enough to live in this economy already; add to that the stigma that comes with repeated stunts in jail or prison, and former inmates will have a hard time staying out of trouble.

This ingenious use of VR in career training is exactly why such ‘niche’ technology exists.

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